Yes, it is that time of year again…mid-summer and time for the “Letters from the Village” Annual Plant Issue.  You know; this is the once-a-year-opportunity to learn about stately gardens, how to cultivate topiary that resembles Paz Vega, as well as your typical plant issue hints and secrets of successful gardening.  Well, the reality is that there isn’t an annual plant issue, but some day when I run out of other projects...  And seeing as how there isn’t an annual issue for plants, the very least I could do is pass along some insights that you could find beneficial for your own garden. 

I discovered that I liked growing things when I moved into La Antigua.  The courtyard gardens were abysmal when I arrived, and it did take some time to get them in the shape I wanted them.  It became quite the challenge, as my plant background was mainly conducted with a weed-whacker whilst living in suburban America.  But here I was, in the middle of the village, safely ensconced behind the courtyard walls, with my only fear being fear itself.  (hey, that is a catchy phrase…I must remember that) 

I did become rather adept at bringing some semblance of order to my gardens, and found special joy in growing my own cookery herbs.  And after moving to Sol y Mar, I did work diligently to bring some green to the various terraces, even if all the plants are in macetas (pots).  Again, I am growing some herbs, but here I am only growing albahaca (AL-BAA-CA), which you may know as Basil.  I must admit it…I do love my albahaca, and put it on salads, chicken, and pasta.  It is, after all, the big component of Pesto, and Pesto to me is right up there with puppies, Dusty Springfield, and chocolate-chip biscuits for good things in life.

My current albahaca crop is coming along quite nicely in three macetas.  Growing it can be a tad tricky as the watering methodology is a combination of guess-work and pure luck (if you get it right).  I have been quite lucky so far this summer with the herb, except that the other day, I noticed that some of the albahaca leaves in one of the maceta’s seemed to be getting smaller instead of larger.  Upon some close observation, it was possible to see that someone or something was eating the leaves.  This is not good, as I have a firm policy that states that only the gardener gets to eat the albahaca leaves, and I would be that gardener.  In a near CSI-moment, I got out a magnifying glass and looked around the remainder of the leaves.  Damn, they looked just like albahaca leaves look like when they are eaten by caracoles (CAR-A-CO-LAYS), which are snails that have an albahaca-greed-complex.  When they are in my gardens, they are also known as bastards.  I hate those little guys, mainly because they not only eat my albahaca leaves, they do it at night when I can’t see them. 

I am not even sure what I would do if I could see the caracoles eating my plants.  I don’t think that they would be up for a lecture, even with flip-chart visuals that identified their errant ways.  I can’t imagine me presenting them with a petition (signed by me) urging them to stay away from my favourite herb.  I suppose I could try to take them in front of the European Union court in Brussels, but they would probably win on humanitarian grounds or some other technicality.  No, I think the only remedy is to annihilate the little buggers.  When I lived in La Antigua, I found these cute little blue pellets that you sprinkle on the ground near plans that are under attack by caracoles, but I didn’t have any of them here.  I could have driven to the nearest garden centre, but I was afraid that I would come back with some giant palm trees or something else I really didn’t need.  Instead, I walked over to talk to Diego, a neighbour of mine. 

Diego does speak English, sort of.  He is quite fluent with phrases like, ‘English, good;’ and ‘okay.’  But I didn’t think that he would understand a lot of what I was describing, so I went with my Spanish.  I explained what I was looking for (the little blue caracoles-killing pellets) and why I needed them (I hate those little bastards for eating my basil leaves).  Diego said, ‘okay,’  and began to look around his little tool shed for the magical pellets.  After a few minutes, a mate of Diego’s walked into the shed and asked what he was looking for.  I, being a good neighbour, offered my explanation…to which Diego’s mate responded, in Spanish, with ‘use beer.’    Okay, so he must not have understood what I had said.  I reiterated my need to find some blue pellets to kill the caracoles, and then said, ‘entiendes?” (do you understand?)  He replied, again in Spanish, with, ‘yes I do understand…use beer.’  It was then that Diego got into the conversation, and after a few minutes, I learnt that if you sprinkle beer on the ground around your plants, it will get rid of any pesky snails that are raising havoc for you.  Not having any beer in the house, I did do a bit of special shopping this afternoon and am ready to do battle this evening.   I hope those little albahaca-munchers don’t like San Miguel. 


the 2008 La Antigua Annual Plant Issue cover (if I had one)



very happy Albahaca plants



desperately sad Albahaca plants


the curse of the garden


the cure...one way or another

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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley